Sikh militant leader Harminder Singh Mintoo was recaptured from a railway station in New Delhi early on Monday, after policemen hunting for the fugitive became suspicious of his hastily trimmed beard and fidgety behaviour.
The 49-year-old leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) was freed from a jail near Patiala by gunmen posing as police a day ago. Mintoo was tracked down to the parking lot at the Nizamuddin railway station around 2am Monday, five hours before he was to board a train to eventually reach Goa from where he wanted to escape to Germany, police said.
Mintoo and another fugitive Kashmeer Singh were driven by their accomplices to Kaithal in Haryana, where the two hurriedly trimmed their beard in a sugarcane field with a pair of scissors they bought from a local farmer.
At the Nizamuddin railway station, Mintoo tried to buy a ticket to Panvel, near Mumbai, when Delhi Police assistant sub-inspector Harish Chander became suspicious by his “improper” appearance and “extra-cautious” behaviour.
In no time, Arvind Deep, special commissioner of Delhi Police (special cell) said, a police team swooped down on them. Mintoo was caught with a pistol which he tried to fire at the police. They also found Rs8,000 with him in old and new banknotes.
Deep said Mintoo chose Goa as his hideout because he lived there for 18 years between the mid-1980s and early 2000s with his family. His wife is from Goa. Another police officer said Mintoo’s plan was to get a passport and visa using his contacts in Goa and reach Nepal en route to Germany.
A Delhi court sent Mintoo to seven days’ police custody. The authorities announced a reward of Rs25 lakh for the capture of the militant, who is said to have visited Pakistan several times and been trained by Islamist jihadis. Police said his jail break was planned as part of efforts to revive Sikh militancy in Punjab.
Police said Mintoo told his interrogators that he planned his jail escape 15 days ago on the instructions of his handlers at Pakistani spy agency, ISI. He had apparently received Rs25,000 in the jail to help with his escape.
Deep also said Mintoo and Kashmeer Singh had been dropped off in Kaithal by Palwinder Singh, a fugitive gangster who helped Mintoo escape from the jail on Sunday. Palwinder was caught with arms and ammunition by the Uttar Pradesh police in Shamli within hours of the jail break.
“Teams were deployed at all interstate bus terminals, railways stations, Metro stations and border points to nab the two. The SHOs were asked to check hotels and guest houses in their respective territorial jurisdictions,” said Deep, the special CP. Hundreds of policemen had been deployed to trace Mintoo.
Deep said Mintoo and Kashmeer Singh hitched a ride from Kaithal to Kurukshetra and then took a bus to Panipat. A second bus ride brought them to Kashmere Gate bus terminus in Delhi.
“To avoid getting caught together, the two split at the bus terminal and Mintoo asked Kashmeer Singh to meet him at the railway station, as they together had to leave for Goa,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police PS Kushwah.
Mintoo was deported from Thailand in November, 2014. He was wanted in at least 10 terrorism-related offences, including the 2008 attack on Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
The KLF is among a handful of Sikh militant groups founded after Indian army stormed the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to flush out militants. The 1984 operation triggered widespread anger in the community, and is believed to have prompted the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had ordered the military operation.